Accessible homes drive up energy costs. Maine volunteers use a simple technique to isolate some of them

In an old church cellar in Norway, Sharon Harrison spans a wide, thin polymer sheet over a rectangular wooden frame. She’s one of a few dozen volunteers at the church – she builds the frames and covers them with shrink wrap and foam.

The end result: window inserts that will eventually fit into the draughty windows of your 1798 home in Waterford. She added some inserts a few years ago.

This story is part of our series, Climate Driven: An In-Depth Of Maine’s Response, One County At A Time.

“And I don’t want to replace the windows. I love the old sauce jar,” Harrison said. “So that was a good alternative to keep our house from getting drafty. It really made a difference.”

A big difference. It’s warmer inside, and Harrison said her fuel bill was down a third.

“The first year we moved into the house we only used so much fuel without these. It was ridiculous,” Harrison said. “And there have been a couple of times I’ve taken one out of the window and you can’t believe the cold difference behind it. It really stopped the drafts.”

Harrison creates these inserts through a program called WindowDressers, where residents of northern New England parishes come together in churches and town halls to glue and package the frames. The Norway event was organized by a local group, the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy. By using volunteers, the prices remain relatively cheap – around $ 40 per deployment. And they are free for low-income households.

But while proponents are touting this low-cost solution as a way to cut bills and carbon dioxide as part of government plans to move away from fossil fuels, they say tackling the old, draughty housing stock in Maine will require a lot more investment over the years voucher .

“We saw that about 96% of the units in Maine were built before the state even passed a statewide building energy code in 2008,” said Jeff Marks, a senior policy advocate and director of the Acadia Center in Maine, an advocacy group for the climate organization.

Marks said that while weathering those hundreds of thousands of older homes is a huge challenge, it can make a significant difference – especially for low-income residents who spend nearly a fifth of their income on energy alone.

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Maine Public Attorney’s Office

A 2019 report by the Maine Office of the Public Advocate shows the average energy load for low-income households compared to all households in the state.

“Really, electrifying homes with energy-efficient heat pumps is really the next step. And the kinds of investments Maine really needs to increase in the years to come,” he said.

Some consider Maine a pioneer as it was here that some of the earliest weathering programs were created in the 1970s.

In the decades since then, MaineHousing has used federal weather support programs to seal cracks, close drafts, and insulate hundreds of homes each year for low-income residents eligible for heating. More recently, Efficiency Maine has also offered weathering discounts: up to $ 3,500 for each resident and up to $ 9,600 for low-to-middle-income residents.

“That’s a third to 90 percent of the typical project cost,” said Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine. “It makes a big difference. And I think that’s a big one – this financial incentive really helps people take these steps. “

In total, the efforts of the two agencies weathered about 2,000 homes in Maine this year.

But for the state to achieve its climate target of weathering 35,000 houses by 2030, this rate has to almost double.

State officials say they are optimistic about two recent investments in getting there. Earlier this year, the Mills Administration Efficiency Maine allocated $ 25 million in stimulus money, which the agency estimates will weather about 3,500 homes.

And the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last month included $ 3.5 billion in house weathering nationwide – roughly 10 times the program’s annual budget.

“But we have to keep in mind that these are one-time inflows into the state,” said Jeff Marks of the Acadia Center. He notes that while heightened awareness and funding of weathering is a good step on the part of state officials, he would like more sustainable sources of funding in the long term, such as a heating fuel fee.

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Robbie Feinberg

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Maine public

Anna Heath, one of the organizers of a recent WindowDressers event in Norway, is shrinking a window insert made by a team of volunteers.

“So the money that comes from the federal government, as well as the state money and the Efficiency Maine programs, are good. They’re solid, ”said Marks. “But doing everything we have to do to meet our energy goals is nowhere near enough.”

And some proponents said that even with funding, doubling the rate of weathering also requires strengthening the state workforce in a tight labor market, which could be challenging even with new vocational training programs.

Back in the church basement in Norway, Fryeburg’s Jim Gibson glues long strips of foam to the sides of a wooden window insert – it’s one small step Gibson can take to reduce CO2 emissions.

“And it doesn’t seem that our politicians are moving too fast in this area,” Gibson said. “As I said, I feel like I’m trying to make a difference window by window.”


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